9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


The Illness, Testament and Death of Francesco Gabrielli

Anne MacNeil

Sources concerning commedia dell’arte players and the music they performed are often frustratingly scarce. Not so in the case of Francesco Gabrielli, the Bolognese comedian known as Scapino. Gabrielli was famous for the extent and beauty of his instrumentarium, as shown in the letters Claudio Monteverdi and Giovan Battista Doni wrote to each other in 1634. And Gabrielli published a number of important documents, which elucidate his musical compositional process and offer insight into his performance practices. In addition to the undated manuscript "Nella famosa rappresentazione de suoni e strumenti" housed in the Biblioteca Burcardo in Rome and the two barzellette included in the song anthologies of Remigio Romano (1618-27), Gabrielli published a book of theatrical villanelle (1624), the text of his Pazzia di Scapino con spropositi pazzeschi et canzoni burlevoli (Bologna, s.d.), and a widely-known miscellany from which the title of this essay is drawn, L'Infermità, testamento, e morte di Francesco Gabrielli detto Scapino (1638). This last includes the famous Aria di Scapino, intabulated for performance with the Spanish guitar.

Born in Bologna into the family and performing ensemble of Giovanni Gabrielli (“Sivello”), Francesco Gabrielli later entered the service of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua. There, he lived and worked with the impressive group of comedians that Vincenzo had drawn into his circle. These included the Andreini family--Isabella, Francesco, Giovan Battista and Virginia (the first Arianna), as well as Salamone Rossi and his sister Madama Europa. My goal in this essay is to establish for the first time the performance practices and musical style of Francesco Gabrielli, and to.redraw the context of musical activity in Mantua to include the rich creative sphere of the commedia dell’arte.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita